Tag Archives: Derek Zeller

HUMANITY

Racism and Bigotry: A Conversation

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees – Billie Holiday

What Happened to Us?

Growing up in a small town in the Southwest had its advantages I suppose. We were a small community, not terribly diverse by today’s standards, as the people were mostly the same. Kids could play in the cul-de-sac, ride their bikes down to the local pharmacy for candy and baseball card packs or comic books without fear of a drive-by or child predator in a “rape van” grabbing us to never be seen again or even worse to be found dead or broken. I often wonder what happened to us, where did we go wrong? How did we lose that hope, that fire? My generation was so close, right there in inclusion, we were joining hands across America and singing we are the world then something happened, and I honestly don’t know what it was. I have no intention of pointing fingers but maybe, just maybe I have an understanding of a history, and it is all in perception.

My Friend

A new friend of mine who is black or African American (or simply just an honest, smart, human being who has more pigmentation than me) were drinking margaritas, and he made a comment. We had been discussing race relations in the U.S., as it has been a conversation that has never come to a conclusion or that any one party has been able to come to consensus about.   He looked at me with sadness, yet with a withheld anger, and said, “I don’t think you will ever understand what it is like to be a black man sitting in a bar full of people who don’t look like you. I am always going to be different.” I pondered this, as I had no answer but then it hit me, I said “Judging a book by its cover never lets you get to read the story. There are lots of great books out there man, and I want to read them.” He smiled, raised his glass for a toast and we moved on to other conversations telling me, “Man, you are the whitest black man I have ever known.” I have to say it was one of the best compliments I have ever received.

A Story

We continued on with conversations less disheartening then a memory popped into my head from my childhood that only a handful of people ever knew outside of my family, it was a harsh memory to bring up, sadly, I have many of those. I turned to Malik and extolled upon him the story of when I was eleven years old and went to visit my cousins in Rochester, NY on one of our yearly family trips for Rosh Hashanah. My cousins lived in a small house near a canal in a more rural part of the town but within walking distance to the local mall and, more importantly, the toy store: a Toys R Us store, to be more exact. Other than FAO Schwartz, this was the holy grail of toy stores and since Star Wars had come out, it was my mission to get all of the action figures for my collection.

I begged my mom to let me go with the older kids because they were going to walk down and knowing  I could possibly find the missing pieces to my set, I really wanted to go. My mother was very protective of me, but she felt since I was with my cousins, I would be safe. She was right to be nervous about my safety, as I came to find out.

So, let me paint the picture for you. We arrived at the mall and I was overjoyed at finding two action figures that I had never seen before. It was well worth sitting around while my two older female cousins shopped for clothes. At one point, Charla realized it was getting late and we needed to head back for it would soon be dark and that would be unsafe for us. I remember wondering why it would be unsafe; the town seemed just like where I was from and that was safe.

We started walking home and on the other side of the canal that we had walked down heading to the house was a group of kids: one girl and three boys. They were shouting at us, I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying as they were on the other side and further down from us. Sasha, my other cousin, said, “We have to go, now!” She was panicked and kept yelling at me to walk faster than we sort of started to jog, which is tough when you have little legs trying to keep up with a teenager. I looked over, and the group that had been well behind us had now caught up on the other side, and I could now hear the jeers. “What are you doing outside, Jew?!?! Where are you going, you Christ killer!?!?! We want to talk to you!!!”

They crossed a bridge ahead and caught up with us just as we thought we could make it to the house. The girl grabbed Sasha’s hair and threw her to the ground. I yelled and rushed her only to find myself on the ground with one of the boy’s knees in my chest. He looked at me strangely and asked, “What are you doing with these two Jews??” You see I was a blond-haired, blue eyed boy that did not resemble an immigrant from the Middle East or Europe like my family that my mother married into. I told him that I was Jewish and these were my cousins and to get off me or he would be in trouble. I remember the hatred he had in his eyes as I finished my statement, they were burning. I had done nothing to this person yet here I was, on the ground, wondering what had made him so angry toward me and my kin.

Before things escalated, some of the neighbors must have heard the raucousness and came out to yell at our attackers and just like the cowards they were, they ran away. We were safe, but I often wonder what would have happened had those people not come out to disrupt our being attacked. Malik looked at me and said, “Book covers man, yeah book covers, I hear that. I feel that now man, damn.” He placed his hand on my shoulder, and we both just sat there in silence, each pondering the world.

Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son.
You know what he hates? Naps! End of list. – Denis Leary

I Never Understood It…

I have never understood racism, bigotry, and out-and-out hatred but it has made me confused for most of my adult life. I have written about perception and quick judgment before like The Music That Binds or Living Within Our Own Mythos, for example, trying to point out how inane it all is, hate is a wasted emotion. Hate is taught, it’s not anger, love, empathy, sadness, or kindness – we are born with those. We need to rise together to begin to teach each other that we are not ok with it and apparently we are failing at it right now; the anger is boiling over. Educated people are not teaching each other what we, as a society, are about. Instead of conformity, we need to embrace how diverse we as people all are we have one great thing in common: we are human. I will leave you with this last verse by one of the greatest poets of our time, Walt Whitman:

Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,

Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects, mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,

Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds, I see around me,

Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

 

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists and identity,

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

 

Can I get an amen?

#truestory #life #peace

HR, HUMANITY

My Christmas in Iowa: A #truestory About Love, Kindness, and Acceptance

Christmas in Iowa

“Christmas is a season for kindling the fire for hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.”  Washington Irving

Before I begin this tale of what happened to me in a frigid, foggy, Des Moines many years ago, I want to explain a brief history of why I was even there around Christmas time, since, well…, I lived in Phoenix at the time and did not really celebrate Christmas in the first place. I was seventeen at the time and had become great friends with a kid named Michael Meggison. Usually, I don’t use people’s real names in my posts because they should be anonymous and rightly so, however, in this particular case it is warranted as the family, as well as Michael, should be praised for the kindness they bestowed on me December 25th, 1985.

I was raised in a Jewish household and practiced both the Sabbath and Hanukah every year. My Grandmother, who came from a Catholic family was always incensed that my mother let me be raised in the Jewish faith; I had my bat mitzvah at 13, my Grandparents attended but with angst. I guess a deal was struck that I would see my grandparents every Christmas and Easter to appease the tension that ran under the relationship they had with my parents. No one in the family actually spoke about it in front of me.

It was Christmas break from school, and I had, having been to Iowa visiting Micheal before, wanted to fly out to see him, his family, and the friends I had met the summer before. I was scheduled to fly back home than a short flight to Yuma, AZ to spend actual Christmas with my family there. The plan was simple, really, I got a cheap flight up and back and could do a quick transfer in Phoenix to be in Yuma Christmas Eve with my family. Well, as you will see, the best-laid plans are made by mice and men, lesson learned, Mr. Steinbeck.

Des Moines in December

The flight in was excellent and seeing Michael’s smiling face and open arms was pretty tremendous. We were both pretty giddy to hang out in his hometown and get, well, crazy. It was cold, and I was not used to it. However, I was in my Judd Nelson phase and had bought my first trench coat similar to the one he wore in the eternal classic teen angst movie The Breakfast Club. Although it was a mild winter with no snow, the temperatures were still cool with oddly warmer days. It made it fun for us to run around the small suburb of Adele and meet up with his friends and talk about stories of the day. School was still in session at the time, as Christmas was the following week as I recall. I discovered, among other things, that a chain called Made-Right made a loose meat sandwich that, if it ever came to it, would be my last meal. In fact, to this day, when I go to see Megs and his family, we go to a Made-Right after I disembark the plane.

I was scheduled for an early-morning flight and those of you who know me well, know that I am not exactly a morning person to begin with. But I was young and seeing my Grandparents would drive me like the sleigh in the song to see them, well, it was supposed to. The sun rose in the morning, and we were off to the airport, as the air warmed the moisture in the air caused a thick fog to appear making visibility reduced. Megs came with me to the gate only to discover that my flight had been delayed, then canceled. I was put on standby, and we sat at the airport, all day, on Christmas Eve. Every flight was oversold, every, last, one. Although they tried valiantly to get me on a flight, I was told that Christmas day was just as packed, and all they could guarantee me was a flight out on the 26th of December, the day AFTER Christmas.

And now, the phone call…

We went back to the house, and I was devastated. Up to that point in my life, I had experienced some strange shit but to have to call my Grandparents and tell them that I would be missing Christmas and there was nothing I could do about it, was just this side of spending eternity in any of Dante’s circles of hell. The sound of my Grandfather’s words and the disappointment in his voice still haunts me to this day. “Why did you go to Iowa?” “Why were you so insensitive to the family?” he asked me. “You might as well not come here now as everyone will be gone by the time you get here!” I remember just sitting there quietly listening, feeling hollow. My Grandmother got on the line next and expecting my next 50 verbal lashes she, instead, said warmly, “It’s not your fault. little lamb, if you want to hear God laugh tell him your plans.” She asked me to ignore my Grandad, he was just hurt because he missed me and to get there as soon as I could, she then said, “Merry Christmas. little lamb.” That was my nickname from her, and I loved it, it always made me feel warm and loved yet now it seemed like a dagger to my heart. There was a reason I subconsciously did not want to be there and someday I will purge that demon but, that is for another day.

Christmas Morning

Now, let me set the stage for you of the house in Iowa. It was huge, in fact, it was the largest home I had ever been in up to that point. It was two stories with a full basement and attic. The living room was huge, and the whole house was a winter wonderland waiting for the 25th of December to arrive. There was a decorated tree with all the trimmings and presents below for the family to open in the morning. I did not know it, but there was a plan hatched earlier in the day by Megs’ family, specifically his mother and two sisters, I believe. Megs had gone to a pay phone to call home telling them it looked as though I would be staying through the holiday and that I was emotional and fragile. He had never actually seen me that way as I was always laughing, telling jokes, and just being snarky. Well, that was going to change the morning of Christmas Day.

I did not want to get out of bed that morning, but the smell of bacon in the pan, and the thought of Megs’ mom’s pancakes and eggs filling my stomach and starting the day was just too much to ignore. When I came down to the kitchen, I was greeted with hugs & smiles, and a plate of hot deliciousness that was the best home cooking. It was just like it would have been had I been home with my family; I needed that. The commercialization of Hanukah and Christmas has never been lost on me, even in my youth. I sincerely liked giving people presents more than receiving them and as I have gotten older my acts of random kindness have increased yearly and there is a reason for that.

The Kindness That Changes

Christmas morning has, for most practicing Christians in the US, to follow a tradition to recreate the giving of gifts to the baby Jesus by the three Kings upon his birth. Being in a free market society and one based on commercialism, this is nirvana for people who make items for consumption. There is a feeling, though, of seeing the joy in a person’s eyes, the glimmer of excitement that someone thought enough of them to get them an item they wanted. I knew it well, it happened every Christmas, and I always volunteered to hand out the presents, one at a time, so that everyone had their moment to smile. Knowing that there was nothing under the tree, here, I offered to do the same. The Megginson’s had their own system of having each member going to the tree and choosing their gift. I don’t remember the order, but I knew that I was not in the batting order for this game. I was not supposed to be there, so why would I? All the kids went one by one to the tree to gather one present to open and show the booty they had received then something unexpected happened.

Mom, as she insisted on being called, looked at me and said, “Derek, it’s your turn now, dear.” I was dumbfounded and sat there perplexed that there would be anything under the tree for me. Thoughts went through my head at that moment, was there really a Santa Claus, could he be real, who is God and does he actually exist, who invented liquid soap and why? I went to the tree, and there in a small pile was not one but many beautifully wrapped with care packages with my name on each. I can tell you now that I don’t actually remember what I received that morning in the way of baubles, but what I took away was that a family, who did not need to do anything for me, who had fed a stranger and given him shelter shared their Love of Christmas with me.

It is one of the fondest memories of Christmas I have and every Christmas day, although I don’t participate like I once did, I look back at the kindness and love that family showed me that day. I missed a Christmas with one family but that Christmas morning I gained another, and that is one heck of the best presents a kid could get. #truestory

HR, HUMANITY

The Danger of Living Within Our Own Mythos

“A myth, in its original Greek meaning- mythos- is simply that: a story, one which seeks to render life transparent to an intelligible source.” ― Jules Cashford

mythos

My Discovery

When I was a little kid I was a voracious reader with the imagination of a 10-year-old boy that thought magic was real and trolls lived under bridges.  Princesses needed saving and dragons were to be slain.  However, my greatest love was the mythology of the Greeks, Romans, and Vikings.  I remember reading every tome I could find in the library or begging my mother to buy me books that spoke of the mythology within the binders.  I did not understand, at the time, that these stories were to not only entertain people but also to deliver sarcasm and knowledge about life and how to live it.

I happened upon my own mythos just recently on a Sunday morning which literally saved my life and this, my friends, is the story.

PANIC!

At 9AM I awoke with angst, this was going to be the first day of our annual College Hire Interview Event and there was an all-hands-on event to start promptly at 9:45 am.  The recruiters were expected to be in the office by 9AM to prep and get any and all things out of the way and then walk candidates in to begin their interview process and hopefully impress us to start their careers. This was going to be my first time working this event and I was nervous as I don’t live close to the office and traffic in DC can and is a nightmare. I panicked when I looked at the clock. Clearly, there was no way I would make it to the office by 9 as it was 9 already. I scrambled to dress, no shower for me this morning; I sprinted to the door and was off.

Once in the car, I called my boss and co-worker to let them know I was going to try my best to get arrive before the interviews started.  I turned on the radio to listen to my favorite morning drive-time show and floored the pedal, going way too fast on an interstate. The Radio DJ was talking about his costume choice for Halloween, which was Monday, today, but was alluding to the fact that was, in fact, tomorrow.  I thought to myself, did you screw up the loop or something? Today was Halloween, not tomorrow

I focused on the task at hand thinking in my mind the strategy I would employ with parking and arriving to the meeting on time. The Radio DJ, after every song, was babbling on about Halloween, tomorrow. I got off I95 and turned onto the beltway to a surprise.  The road was clear, SCORE! I was, of course, shocked, Monday morning and there was no one on the road? Did Halloween become some kind of National Holiday now? Personally, I was ok with it since my commute was going to be easier than expected but there was a nagging thought in my mind, all be it a small one, that I might be missing something.

Reality

Just before I go to the office, my boss called, and I immediately answered with my heart in my stomach.  He said, “Dumbass, it’s Sunday, enjoy your day off, and I will see you tomorrow.”  He laughed saying, “It’s going to be a long time until you live this one down!” I sat at the red light staring off in the distance, humiliated and realizing I am getting old, how did this happen? Well, at least I have the rest of the day to reflect on this.
However, life was going to take a different direction.

More than I Bargained for

Earlier in the month, I had contracted a skin virus on my right calf leg. Not having a primary Doctor since changing jobs and insurance companies, I just went to the ER to get checked out. They agreed it was a viral infection, gave me a prescription and I was on my way.  Since the hospital was near my office and my leg was, once again, showing signs of the infection, I decided, since I was here, to swing by and get another dose of antidote and hopefully fix my leg permanently.
I was in for a great deal more than I had bargained for.

Reston Hospital is a pretty pleasant place, considering it’s a housing facility for the ill and dying. Plenty of sunshine in the lobby and lots of magazines and helpful, friendly nurses. Just as my previous visit, they checked me in and before I could sit down, they had me in a room taking my clothes off and asking me the same questions I answered before. I tried to explain that I just needed some antibiotics and they could look up my chart. Not to draw this story out, it turned out I had blood clots in my leg and in my lungs. Not good. I was told by everyone I was lucky to have caught this as I was a walking time bomb, and could have died at any moment, as time was not a friend in this instance.

My point to this story you ask?

Simple: my mythos saved my life, this time. I chose to believe that I was firmly correct in my assumption that it was Monday and I would not consider anything else, no matter what the facts presented to me were that morning. I had to be correct, and everyone else had to be incorrect.

After this election, I have struggled to determine the same thing within the United States and the world, in general.

Communication is defunct, we, being bombarded by email, Facebook, Linkedin, Reddit, etc. We are chasing each other around in a virtual fishbowl we cannot seemingly get out of. Why?

Listen, I have lost my shit at times, believe me, many of you have seen it or read it from me. I get it. As I glide towards seeming senility, I want to at least understand the human condition better. Seemingly, there are not two sides to this coin called human life, just the same ugly sides covered with a different coat of paint.

What I have seen in the last week from both sides of this virtual coin is more disturbing than I ever thought. People are unaccepting of reality, and are acting in a way that they despise or were called out for and are emboldened to show their true colors.  People who extoll mercy and acceptance when they don’t get their way turn to violence? Those who were afraid and silent, that were belittled by one group, now rise in anger and benevolence to chastise something we thought long dead? The ignorant and intolerant feeling embolden to act in inhumane ways in order to prove one side or the other correct? Protecting the mythos and it is shamefull.  The profiteers on both sides who are making money by extolling the anger and hate, always keeping us apart.  The mythos that we cannot and seemingly refuse to release is tearing us apart. 

My leg is going to be better, or so they tell me. My silly reaction to the arrogance that my personal mythos that day could have very well saved my life, yet that same mythos-type mentality is tearing our very world apart, and we, like sheeple, are allowing it to happen. That, my friends, scares me more than the loss of my own mortality.

Take the time…

Take the time to listen to all opinions and do so without bashing or rhetoric. Listen, truly listen, and check facts. We need more talking and less yelling, more understanding why someone feels the way they do, then demanding they think like you.

Both sides just need to make better choices.

#truestory

HUMANITY, WELLNESS

Get a Job: The Truth about the Homeless

The Truth about the Homeless

People will sooner aid a sick dog lying on the sidewalk than to try
to find shelter for a sick person. It’s too much to deal with.
–Michael Zaslow

The internet is an excellent tool used by millions to find information, share emails, keep in touch with friends, and share funny photos and memes. I am on the internet, it seems, hours upon hours a day. In fact, I am a serial Facebook, LinkedIn, blog-reading fool. Whenever I am sitting at a bar having conversations and discussions about something, it’s off to Google to prove my point or get info on the subject. It’s just too easy to gather information now, and it is so much faster. This being a political year, it seems that funny photos and sarcastic ones are popping up all over social networks, some funny – some disturbing.

job

I saw the above picture on Facebook a few days ago and then I saw something similar in LA, live. It broke my heart. The photo was meant to be satirical, yet what I saw on that corner was a reality for a human being that I passed by in my Uber to the airport. He had a sign out with the usual verbiage but here is the story. There was no man standing or photoshopped in, this was life. I thought about the pic when I saw him and thought, why couldn’t he find work at a Walmart or a McDonald’s? When I got on the plane, that picture still sat in the back of my head as sat down, in 1st class no less, and I wondered what the Walmart guy would really say to this man instead of trying to go viral on the internet with what would be perceived as a funny photo.

Getting Work for People

Being in the actual practice of getting people work for over 19 years, I would like to set up a dose of a little reality for him. Here are some of my G-rated questions for the Walmart guy:

1) Will you hire him if he doesn’t pass a background check or has committed a felony?

2) Will you provide him clothes to work in and when those get dirty will you help him get them washed or do you think that first paycheck will pay for an apartment, utilities, appliances, and laundry detergent?

3) Will you immediately pay for any healthcare including mental health care he might need? With medications?

4) Will you keep him as an employee if he has an exacerbation of PTSD, anxiety, schizophrenia, or anything else while at work?

5) Will you have someone watch his only earthly possessions while he is working, so no one steals them?

6) Will you provide childcare or transportation or a bed for a good night’s sleep or food to sustain him while he works?

7) Will you even take an application from someone who does not have an address?

Are the answers to my questions are “yes?” If so, I admire your corporation, and I will be more than happy to help drive candidates to your organization. However, we both know that the answer to every one of these queries is “NO!”

Just Get a Freaking Job

The “just get a freaking job” argument is not so easy to quip when you look at the facts. Many of those who are homeless do work or want to work. Many can’t. It is truly not a simple fix. Some homeless hold signs – mostly people don’t talk to them, they turn away, or tell them to get a job. Judging them helps in no way, at all. I am fully aware there are bogus people out there pulling heart strings on sympathies who hold signs and don’t have legitimate needs; I actually don’t advocate for giving cash to those “flying signs” unless they are creative.

Cheeseburgers?

Years ago, while in San Francisco visiting friends we ran across a black man with a sign that read, “please donate to the United Negro Cheeseburger Fund” we laughed hard, and I said if I give you 5 dollars are you going to go the McDonalds behind you and get some .99 cent cheeseburgers? He smiled and said yes, yes I am. I gave him the 5 dollars, and he ran in to get the cheeseburgers, came out and went around the corner. We followed him to see if he was, indeed, going to eat them. He did not, he gave them away to a woman & two kids, and another man grabbed his sign and went back to his post. I looked at my compadres and without a word we crossed the street and gave him all the cash we could.

The Faces of the Homeless

My point is, “just get a damn job” is not simple thing look what stands in front of those who have fallen and cannot get up. Please take some time to understand some of the most devastating underlying issues these people have is the lack of caring we have for them. Human resources used to be a middle man between employees and owners while helping fill vacant seats. Now, they are mostly buried with compliance, benefits, and just making sure they don’t get sued for not taking chances. They are more concerned about the bottom line than most CEOs.

These struggling people have feelings and worth, and they are not all junkies and alcoholics, many are just fighting to survive in a world that looks at them like trash. Some are veterans who fought in wars they did not start. Some are women who ran from abusive marriages, some are those who fell on hard times. Some are teenage throw aways who never even had a shot at life, and the spiraling effect of going down is like falling out of a plane without a working parachute. It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the fact there was nothing and no one there willing to catch you.

Paying it Forward

I hope this is where we can start to fit in. We, as a society, need to start actively start getting deeper in the game, we need to be more than order takers and more about effecting change. Stop giving them a dollar to pay for a coffee but get them somewhere they can get help. We need to start championing people we may not have in the past. I am using the homeless as an analogy just as there are other groups that need help, training, and, just some love. Join me in paying it forward, will you? Remember, you are either part of the problem or part of the solution, where do you want to be in history?

#truestory #life

HR, HUMANITY

Better off Dead: My Two Dollars Story

Better Off Dead

My two dollarsOne of John Cusack’s first movies was an odd spinoff of the wildly successful John Hughes films of the 80’s and 90’s called Better off Dead. Throughout the film, there is a running theme of a newspaper boy, yes, for those younger than 40 – we did not exercise child labor laws that strictly back then, chasing after the main character, Cusack for two dollars. You see, on top of delivering the papers to your front door, you had to do collections door-to-door, weekly for the money from the person getting the newspapers. Daily papers were .25c, and the Sunday paper was .50c, equaling two dollars a week. A few weeks ago, this came to mind one evening in a convenience store near my home.

A Wild Week

After what had been a wild week with candidate negotiations, allergies, and lack of sleep based on said allergies, something good finally happened. Sometimes, you just have to look past yourself to realize there is someone out there a little worse off than you. I had to run down to the local 7/11 for milk, as the carton in my fridge had spoiled. I drove down to the corner store, cursing that my craving for mashed potatoes and the need of milk to make the deliciousness that that dish is, forced me out of my home and into my car to procure this magic liquid.

When I arrived at the market, it was unusually busy, people milling around – looking at products deciding what snacks they wanted, etc. Now you see, I am not really a big grocery store guy, I eat out a great deal, so I know convenience stores well and how they operate. You have to move fast, or a line will form and then you are caught standing there pissed off because you just want to go home and eat mashed potatoes, and yet you are standing here, waiting. First world problems, am I right?

Two Dollars

better off deadI hate being right sometimes, and like a perfect storm, a line had formed, yet, not a bad one, there was a single guy and father there with his two young daughters in front of me, so I thought, oh well just a few more minutes. It could be worse with the sea of bachelors that were in the store. The first guy went off without a hitch, paid and off he went. Then, the father walked up with a loaf of bread and cheese. He was rung up quickly, handed the clerk his card, and the transaction was done. Boom, I am on the home stretch now! The youngest child then pulled a candy out of her pocket that she had been holding. The Father looked at her and smiled and said, “Sure, baby girl.” I stood there deflated and angry. I was tired, hungry, and just wanted to get back home to make the potatoes and eat my dinner. The clerk rang up the candy, and it popped up as two dollars on the register, he handed the man the card, again. So yet another transaction I have to sit through, great how much longer do I have to wait!!
Then, it happened, the card was declined, for two dollars.

His body language showed his humiliation that he could not afford two dollars, in front of his children, when he was told there no more funds available on his card which turned out to be an EBT card. Two dollars. For those who don’t live in Virginia, the EBT card is the equivalent of a debit card for food stamps funded by the Common Wealth of Virginia, and he had run out of funds. He scooped up the little one, who was crying that she wanted her candy, and took the other child’s hand, then walked out to his car leaving the candy on the counter in front of us. He said nothing but I caught his eye as he looked down and slowly left the store. The attendant took my milk as I watched the family with the sound of the words of two dollars ringing in my head, and I said, “The candy, I want the candy, too.”

Atonement Gained

The clerk’s expression was one of puzzlement that turned to a look of atonement for not doing what I should have done. I tried swiping my card but was having problems with the machine to complete the transaction quickly enough. Turning to look outside, I saw the Father getting into the passenger seat. Feeling my frustration, the clerk only said to me, “Go, Atonement gained, I suppose.” I nodded to the attendant and ran out of the store leaving both my credit card and wallet on the counter to catch the family before they left. When I got to the car door, his window was down so I handed him the candy and just quietly said, “Sir, you forgot something.” I turned to go back inside, and the father called out to me and mouthed, “Thank you, man.” Two Dollars.

A Very Good Man?

When I went back in, there was a line of people all staring at me, a long line. They were all men of different races, Black, White, Indian, and Asian. Not one person said anything, not one person was upset, in fact, they were all staring at me, some deep in thought, others smiling and nodding. As I reached for my carton of milk, the attendant held on to it for a moment looking me in the eye, smiled, and gave me a short bow and said, “You are a very good man.”

No, I really am not. I stood there in that line cursing the fact that I, a single man, who has enough money to eat out every night if I want, was angry that I had to wait in line. I felt anger toward a Father, caring for his progeny and, more than likely having cheese sandwiches for dinner, couldn’t afford candy, for two dollars. It is moments like this that remind me that we must look around and lift each other up, love each other a little more, and recognize that even though it can be bad at times, there is more than likely someone worse off than you.

Next time, I am going to be a great deal more patient with the world, I think we all should strive for that. I wish it would only cost two dollars to change the perception in the world, which would be amazing.

#truestory #life

HUMANITY

Guns and Mythos

Guns: What Are They Good For?

Why is it that, as a culture, we are more comfortable seeing two men holding guns than holding hands? – Ernest Gaines

I was twelve years old when I shot my first pistol. It was my Grandfather’s revolver, a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum six shooter. My Grandfather was good friends with the local gun shop owner, Mr. Sprague in Yuma, AZ. He had a personal firing range – underground, behind his shop – and only he or his friends were allowed to shoot there.

My Grandad took me there one afternoon to teach me, not only how to shoot a gun, but to understand its sheer power. He wanted me to learn to respect the weapon for what it could do. I remember not being nervous holding it, in fact quite the opposite. I was going to be the lone ranger, Shane – High Noon time is what I was thinking to myself. I was just a kid who  went to movies and watched TV shows. To me, this was the equivalent of becoming like my many heroes from those shows – shooting guns, killing the bad guys, and, well, getting the girl. I was just starting to like them at that age.

He showed me, with an unloaded weapon, how to aim at the target and how to breathe in while pulling back the trigger. The one thing he could not tell me, the one thing I had to learn on my own, was the power that this firearm had. I loaded the weapon, pulled back the hammer, and then squeezed the trigger just like I was trained to do. BANG! The shot rang out, and my arms took on a life of their own, going upward as by body hurdled backward from the shock of the kickback at the release of the bullet. I was terrified of the experience and the sheer power that this gun held and that I was the one who wielded it. The target we used was a watermelon, it became a pile of unusable fruit.

I asked my Grandfather why he had not prepared me for that shock. He only smiled and said, “How else are you going to learn?”

As the years have gone by, I have shot multiple weapons and began to enjoy shooting rifles, more than pistols, as there was a sense of accomplishment hitting a target 100 yards away with accuracy. I did some hunting but never really liked it. Killing animals was not high on my list of things to do as a kid, and it lowers the older I get. I understand the idea of it and why: in the 1800’s, it was a good skill to have – I just did not see the point of it now.

Eventually, the rifles were sold to acquire other baubles like art and collectible comic books. I had friends who joined the military, went to war, and used the education that we got, as kids, to amplify their talents with guns with unbelievably destructive power. Two of them, upon their return, sold the guns they had. They had more than enough of them and enough of violence. War can do that to you.

gunsThe Cause?

“Should we have background checks, waiting periods? To drive a car you have to pass a test that shows you know how to drive your car safely, you should have to do the same thing with guns.” – Michael D. Barnes

My Great Uncle took his life with a gun.
In high school, a former girlfriend took her life with a gun.
Two friends of mine, after high school, were murdered in a parking lot, by a gun.

Every day, there is gun violence int he U.S., and no law other than the total restriction of guns is going to change that. So, yeah – I have a pretty good reasons to understand that weapons take lives. I have lost my share, more than my share.

What we need to do is teach the destructive power a gun has and its effects on people who lose someone to this kind of violence. Children should be taught, like I was, what guns can and will do in the hands of the careless, unemotional, and mentally ill. It should not be taught by video games, movies, and/or TV shows.

We won’t be, though.

Hell, we don’t teach our kids anything now, it seems. The entitlement festers like a sore, unattended in this country, and we blame anyone else, other than ourselves; it’s the norm. Kids want to play violent video games, they want to be Stormtroopers, or Jason Bourne. Too many movies to mention, too many video games to un-see. I feel this is where the problem begins. These children are not educated on the meaning of life, what it means to take a life, and the devastating consequences of careless actions anymore. If it truly takes a village, ours is burning to the ground, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

gunsThe Solution?

So what do we do? How do we solve the endemic problem we are facing in this country without causing an all-out uncivil war? Have politicians hold sit-ins while bickering amongst their egos? Sometimes the solution to a problem is not to overthink it.

What I believe is you have the right to own a firearm, and I am all for you to have what my Grandmother called a “bang a bang”. However, there is nothing in the constitution that says you can have bullets. Nothing. I know, I looked it up. Collect all the high powered shit you want but you don’t get bullets for it.

See where I am going here?

Just like the prohibition days, this would cause a vacuum, so I get that. Let’s make a little money off this deal then require permits for bullets, which are renewed annually along with background checks annually, as well. Criminals are going to get their hands on guns; we already have too many already in this country, and no matter what you think, our borders are too porous. Hell, if they can get drugs or people across the border, think of how lucrative guns could be. However – when we control the actual gun powder, casings, and lead distribution, they will not be very useful, will they? Running bullets in the amounts that would be profit-worthy would be a costly venture for any cartel, since you cannot just grow rounds. They have to be made in a factory and then shipped; this can be accounted for.

Secondly, when you buy a weapon of this magnitude, you should be licensed. You need a license to drive, fish, hunt, own an animal in some states, but any ass-hat can buy a gun? We need to make it mandatory that they do get training, that they understand the depth of what a bullet can do. It’s not the guns, folks; it’s the bullets that do the damage. Proper firearm training is usually offered at any local gun shop, and it should be mandatory. I know many gun owners who agree with me on this point, and it is an easy sell if someone would just sell it. Knowledge is power, folks and having a well-educated group of people is never a bad thing.

The Gun Culture

We live in a gun culture and that, sadly, is not going to change tomorrow. The history in this country is just too vast, and frankly, the world is a scary place, and people want to be safe. Unravelling this is going to be tough but we have to start somewhere, or it is only going to get worse. And after the last few weeks, that scares me more than when I shot my first gun; I never thought that would happen in my lifetime.

#truestory #life.

BUSINESS, HUMANITY

A Guy Walks Into a Bar: The Music That Binds

#StandTogether

“Those who have not lived in New Orleans have missed an incredible, glorious, vital city–a place with an energy unlike anywhere else in the world, a majority-African American city where resistance to white supremacy has cultivated and supported a generous, subversive, and unique culture of vivid beauty.
― 
Jordan Flaherty

So this guy walks into a bar, you’ve heard the joke, right? Well, if you haven’t you sure are missing out on, what usually becomes, a bad witticism. This post is not about a bad joke but about what could have been a choice, with truly extreme consequences, that should not be in place in the United States after all these years. This is not a post about recruiting, sourcing, or social media; it’s much more than that. I am penning a #truestory of a night not to be forgotten in a parish outside of New Orleans in a bar that forged an understanding of what racism is and how a genre of music, with the understanding of genuine respect, can bring people together.

So for a little personal history, my Grandfather was from New Orleans before he and his father headed west to San Diego for better fortunes during the Depression. I remember, as a kid, sitting at his feet listening to the stories of his childhood growing up there. He told me of the jazz and the blues music that would fill the streets with passion while the people would dance and sing along. It was a magical place, transformed into a dance hall on the streets at night with people drinking libations, mingling together enjoying the music and food. It all sounded like Nirvana to me, even at the tender age of twelve. I would listen to the music he played on the record player; Robert Johnson (King of the Delta Blues), Lead Belly, B.B. King, Bessie Smith (The Empress of the Blues), Howlin’ Wolf, and of course, Muddy Waters (father of modern Chicago blues). Over time, it became a passion for me to go to music halls, of any kind, to hear and feel the music live and in person. I grew up in the Southwest, and I only had a few opportunities to get to see a genre that I grew up listening to on my Grandad’s old Victrola. When I got the first chance to go to New Orleans, I planned my trip, accordingly, to listen to the music live in a city that was part of my heritage.

#StandTogether

Play That Funky Music White Boy

“And here’s to the blues, the real blues— where there’s a hint of hope in every cry of desperation.”
― 
David Mutti Clark

A friend of mine, Jimmy, was getting married, and we were doing a road trip from Phoenix to Connecticut where the wedding was being held. It was a Bachelor Party on wheels, and one of the destinations was going to be New Orleans. I looked forward to all that was packed into the City of Music and Home to Jazz and, of course, the Blues. The air was wet with perspiration, and you could smell the alcohol sweating out of the tourists walking around The Quarter, taking in the liquid hurricanes and feeling the music blasting from the bars. It was my first time in New Orleans, and this kid was going to take in every sight and sound he could.

It turned out that a lack of sufficient hydration, while causing that dehydration to increase with alcohol, is not something that an individual used to dry heat, gets used to on their first night in NOLA. Needless to say, my man was down, my pal Jimmy was miserable the next day after our debauchery in The Quarter, bar hopping and being invincible. So, the next night I was left to my own devices, alone to find my next adventure, and I had an appetite for something a little different than wandering The Quarter.

I wanted to hear the Blues, the real Blues, not the kind abridged for tourists but in a REAL Blues bar. You know, the kind in the movies, filled with smoke and bourbon, hope and despair, happiness and hopelessness. I wanted the local experience; I wanted to see my heroes or legends who would find that back alley bar to try out new music with the only people listening already gone in their minds and who use the music to anchor them here one more day because they are just barely holding on.

I caught a cab and asked the driver where the best Blues club was in the city, and I am not talking the French Quarter. I got the most charming, wry smile and chuckle. He asked, “What you want to do that for?mThat’s what the Quarters are all about, blues and jazz for the tourists.” I politely told him I was looking for the real Blues, not the faux stuff, but a place where the locals would go to unwind and listen to the music. He laughed a laugh that only could be best described as Geoffery Holder from the 7-up commercials of the early 80’s commercials. “I know just the place,” he said. I introduced myself to my new friend and he said, “Name’s Cornelius, my man.” Then he told me “When we get there, it will be best that I walk you in, you know, just in case.” I, in fact, did not know what this meant, but I shrugged my shoulders and said, “Sounds good to me, let’s go!”

#StandTogether

A Guy Walks into a Bar and…

“Black, white, Latino, gay, straight – if any one of them came across a bear in the woods, they’d all taste like chicken.” 
― 
Jennifer Lane

We drove out of the city and, well, a little out of my comfort zone. We ended up in what could best be described as a shanty town-like building with yellow light coming through the makeshift windows and cracks in the aluminum siding that were meant for walls. Entering the bar, I was excited, there was a titillation I had not felt before in my life, a newness to the unknown, I guess. Then a sense of reality quickly set in, a slap in the face that so many minorities I am sure to have felt when going to a place that was not where they were used to. I was the only white person in the establishment, and being like an odd 80s teen angst movie from John Hughes, the eight or so patrons all turned and stared at me.

The whole bar was quiet as I sat down on the last stool at the bar, closest to the door, and asked Cornelius, who had just come in and sat one stool over from me what was going on. He said, “This ain’t exactly a white man’s bar, if you get my meaning” I, once again, had no idea what he was talking about, but I was about to find out.

Although Cornelius, was served right away the bartender only looked at me, with a stare and then flipped his bar towel over his shoulder and walked away. I asked Cornelius if this was this normal. He just reiterated his previous comment, then shrugged.  After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, the bartender came over and leaned in, putting his rather large arms down on the bar, then leaned in even further, slowly and with purpose, to look me directly in the eye and said, “I think you are in the wrong bar, you looks to be more of a quarters type of cat, you understand me?” I was, at this moment, and with the entire bar now staring at me yet again confused, then the epiphany set in. I was white, in the south, in a predominantly African-American area, and I was, in a sense, trespassing. Having never been in a situation like this and not entirely knowing what to do, Cornelius jumped into my defense saying, “Carl, the kid just wants to listen to music, man – he don’t want no trouble, I know, I brought him here.” “You should know better than to bring a white boy into this bar,” said the now obviously annoyed bartender. “They have their bars, we have our bars!”

#StandTogether

The Moment That Changed it All

My entire life can be described in one sentence: it didn’t go as planned, and that’s ok.
Rachel Wolchin

I was trembling and became reasonably concerned that this could escalate into a very unpleasant evening for me. Luckily, being from a family whose Grandfather sold liquor to bars and ran a few himself, I knew the industry pretty well – so I took a chance. I asked the bartender what was the most popular drink at the bar, “whiskey, of course! What’s wrong which you?” he asked. I pulled out a $50 bill and pushed it toward him and said with the strongest voice I could, “I would like to buy the bar a round then, and I would like a beer chaser with mine, please.” His eyes of steel resolve softened just a bit and he quietly said, “uhhh huhhh!” Cornelius turned slowly and stared at me with the same smile he had when he told me he was bringing me here. I think now he may have meant this trip as learning a lesson for me or possibly the patrons of that shanty bar; I suspect I’ll never know. Frankly, I don’t think I ever want to. The bartender poured a shot for everyone at the bar, even me, and put my change down next to my drink. I told him to keep it, in hopes of making him an ally for the moment. Just as a side note, that was all the money I had for the night, other than the emergency credit card, but it did not bother me, I figured I was done at this point, anyway.

One of the patrons, a regular I later found out, grabbed his glass and came down to where I was sitting and said, “I appreciate the drink an’ all my man, but I like to know who I am drinking with ‘fore I accept such an offering.” I told him of my appreciation of music, how the Blues spoke to me, how it made me feel, for the lack of better word, better. I spoke of how my Grandfather, being from New Orleans, grew up on the music and let me listen to the songs in the background while telling me stories of where the music came from. The greatest seat in the world is at the feet of your elders, and, yep, it always will be and as it should be.

I spoke that I honestly had no idea what I had done to cause the level of angst that was occurring and said, “As soon as I’m done with this shot and beer I’ll be on my way. I meant no disrespect and didn’t want any trouble.” The stranger that had sat down said, “The hell you will! The men in this bar pay their way, paid more than most, and we all will be buying you shots now. Welcome to the bar, son, and thank you for being real, and honest.” Heads shook, glasses were slammed to the bar, and everyone laughed, backs were slapped, and the clear fact that my pants were still waterless was a total win for me. I was escorted to the other end of the bar as I was told the acoustics were better closer to the stage as there were actual concrete walls and egg cartons to hold the music from escaping out into the night. Pretty soon, they were going to be proven right.

#StandTogether

A Guy Walks out of a Bar…

Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list.Dennis Leary

The music and the whiskey flowed that night, and the power of the blues ran through our blood, , because that is what we are all are, human. That night, that very evening, I learned a lesson that, unfortunately, so many go through walking into a new place, any place, where there is a lack of representation of what their race exemplification is. This is sad folks, it is, and we, as humans, all should be ashamed of at this time, this moment, that we allow this in the world. Such a simple gesture of respect, from everyone, made for an unforgettable evening.

Say it out loud with me, WE ALL ARE HUMAN BEINGS!!!

Since that day, and everywhere I go, I take that night with me, not only to new places, but the places I frequent the most. I put out my hand to shake or open my arms to hug; I laugh a boisterous laugh to soften the fear of anyone of any race, creed, or religion to think that they are not wanted or in and unsafe place. You should try, it as well; it is a great feeling, and the people you learn from or the people you can teach spreads the virus of kindness and understanding. I have to tell you it is, now more than ever, needed.

I’ll leave you with this Dr. Kings speech, maybe you have read it, maybe you haven’t, but damn — it speaks the words, don’t it? This is ONE of my favorite passages:

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.”

Here is a link to the whole speech I would recommend taking a listen or reading: I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King

I wrote this piece a few weeks ago, after a conversation with a number of friends about relations in this country and I told them this very story. They told me I should write it down for my next post and in light of recent events, I have chosen to post this, hoping to help heal and let all of us know, we choose how we are with each other and we need to start making better choices. I have a dream, as well; I am not a very religious man, but I will say that I pray. I pray that we as a society, can, in my lifetime, hold hands and build each other up for the betterment of all, not just because of what we look like but because of who we are, and that is one race, the human race.

#life #truestory

HR, LIFESTYLE

NYC 15 Years Later: The Memorial and Never Forgetting

memorial


“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.” –John Steinbeck

15 Years Later, New York City: the Memorial and Never Ever Forgetting                

How do you start a story about something that you don’t really want to talk about but have to? How Do you tell a story about the lives of people that you were just getting to know who were taken from you through an act of senseless terror, only days after your birthday on a warm summer morning? I don’t know, I know. Maybe this is not a story that will be written well, a page turner if you will, but, it’s not a story; It’s real. Many of us in the little aquarium we call life find ourselves smacking our heads against the glass, wondering why we are trapped and how we can get out. Thanks, Pink Floyd. So, if you want to go on this emotional roller-coaster with me, then here is your ticket, if not, frankly I do not blame you. Honestly, I hate that I pulled that number myself, but at times life is, as I often say, a dark ride. I did not choose it, but you did, so, come on in, it’s a long read, but I hope it’s worth it, and you will understand why I wrote it.

So the Ride Begins: The Preface

My first trip to NYC was when I was ten years old and there were three things I wanted to see: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, and the Trade Center Towers. When you are ten years old, it’s the big things, not the little things that matter to you and this was how old I was when I got to see, firsthand, those sites. To me, the Twin Towers were the greatest thing I had ever seen. I had gone there many times after that first trip. Over the years, I always marveled at the height of the towers and how the steel and glass glistened in the daylight. At night, it would glow like two behemoth beacons beckoning for you to come inside and see the city from its perspective. There was an observation deck on the top floor of one of the towers – I forget which one now, but due to its height and wind shear, you were not allowed to be outside like you could at the Empire State Building. Good for me I suppose, as heights are my Achilles heel. I get vertigo being above ten floors is often, if not always, overwhelming – especially if I am outdoors. I suppose this is what ended my mountain climbing career.

Then it happened, the attacks on the Towers, the Pentagon, and the brave souls in Pennsylvania. When I do speak of that day, and I rarely do, I always cry because, not only the tragic loss of life, but also, the loss of the world’s, and my, innocence. On that fateful day, seven of my friend’s lives were snatched from them in Tower One as it collapsed in on itself – much to the horror of those who watched, powerless and stunned, as it fell. I sat helplessly in Phoenix, thousands of miles away, as I observed the South Tower fall on the television screen. There was nothing I could have done and the hopelessness which gripped me has never been stronger than that day.

The Return – Part One

memorial

“Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” –Vicki Harrison

Roughly a year later, I was offered a trip to NYC to see the Arizona Diamondbacks play against the New York Yankees in a baseball rematch of the 2011 World Series. I am a diehard baseball fan and jumped at the chance for a free trip and a four-game series inside one the oldest and most historic parks in the US. We planned our entire trip to the big city from what Broadway show to see, museums to wander, and of course, what diners we would be eating delectables in the city. None of us spoke about the towers, not once. The group I was going with knew about my loss, and I suppose did not want to upset me by bringing up what happened that day. I was the only one in my group who had lost someone, let alone seven people – so how to be empathetic was lost on them? They are not bad people, mind you, they just had no idea how to broach the subject and I know I would have been the same way, it’s not something anyone thinks about, until you do.

We were going to spend six days in the city and had everything planned out, except the last day, the last day was a free day for everyone to do what they wanted, on their own time – at their pace. There was the talk of a trip to MOMA or Coney Island. There is much to do in the city that never sleeps. The trip was a great one, and I was pleased that everything went off without any issues and was looking forward to our bonus day, although I had no idea what I wanted to do, well, there was something.

King KongThe whole time we were in the city, I longed to go to Ground Zero, the place that even the great King Kong of the 1976 movie fame could not topple – the massive towers and, yet, they were gone.

Morning arrived on my last full day in NYC and as I rose to wash my face, still having no idea what I was going do with the day. I got dressed and while putting on my shoes, there was a knock at the door. I assumed it was just the house cleaning crew as I may have forgotten to put the do not disturb sign on the handle the night before. I was thoroughly taken aback when I opened the door, and my friends, all of them, were standing there. Bob, the elder of the group and the unofficial leader, said, “After you had left last night we all took a vote, it was unanimous, we are taking you to Ground Zero.” I felt my heart swell with pride and love that I had for a group of people who were willing to give up their free day for me to go and pay my respects at the site without having to be alone. Bob was a native New Yorker but had not been living there for over 30 years. He knew the city was hurting, I was hurting, and he recognized this was the right thing to do, or so we all thought.

When we got downtown, my anxiousness and fears set in as there were no behemoth towers, as we drove up, where they were supposed to be. There is an old joke; you know that light at the end of the tunnel? That is the train coming. Here I was stuffed into a cab on a hot summer day with the smells of the city and Aqua Velva emanating from the driver, as the reality of what had happened in NYC on September 11, 2001 hit me with full force.

This actually happened. I am going to have to own this pain now as this is not a dream, they were gone, and nothing would change that, nothing.

NYCWe arrived a few blocks from the site, and I scooped up my disposable camera I had bought to take pictures to hang in my office and, with a deep breath, began to walk toward the debris that even after a year was still was being cleared away. In the distance, I could see the makeshift memorial, the pictures, the flowers, the hope that, for some unexplainable reason, a loved one or friend would rise from the ashes and hug them again. I was only one block away but… I never made it.

kiss a strangerInstead, I dropped to my knees, unable to support the weight of the pain of my loss. There were now, not just seven people in my mind, but thousands and the burden of seeing those fliers on buildings, fences, and trees were too much, I was having a panic attack and didn’t know it. Bob was the first one to reach me, as he was literally by my side, but he was unable to lift a guy my size. The others quickly came to me and helped me up and asked the standard question, are you ok? I was not, even my dry wit had abandoned me, and I quietly murmured, I want to go back to the hotel.

So, we did. I made my way to the hotel bar and asked for a drink, a stiff drink. I know if there had been a pool of whiskey or vodka somewhere, I would have been swimming in it and drinking my way to the bottom. It was depression to the highest order, this was anger, and it was unresolved sorrow. I drank until I passed out and not one of my friends left my side. They put me to bed, helped with the hangover the next day, and never said a word.

The Return – Part Two

memorial“While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it is digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it.” –Samuel Johnson

I am writing this the day after my trip to NYC (New York City) to speak about a point in my life that I had been putting off for over 14 years. I had been to the city a few times after 9/11, but I could never bring myself to go to where the towers once stood proudly in the financial district of the city, near the banks of the Hudson River. After 13 years from that first trip back, I had yet to return to that part of New York again. I had been up once or twice, but I never went downtown to the district. It was where “it” had happened, where the towers were taken down, and the fact that I am, in fact, utterly human and completely fallible. The debris was gone, a new single enormous tower was constructed next to the site of the original Twins, and the city had moved on. I received a message from my friend Rayanne Thorn that she was coming to NYC to meet with friends and do some business and was hoping that I could come up for a family style dinner on a Thursday evening. I had finished a project and was waiting to start a new full-time role a few weeks away, and I thought why not, so I said yes knowing full well that although I did want to see her and others, I had an alternative motive this time to return.

I called my good friend Steve Levy and asked if he was around to pal around with me on Thursday before the dinner and I had a favor to ask of him. I wanted to go and see the tower and the memorial for 9/11. Steve had lost a friend, no, a brother who was one of the firefighters that died risking his life to save others. He carries his picture in his wallet with him, as I was later to find out. Me, I only had names and memories. He, of course, said, “Absolutely man, absolutely.”

I arrived on Wednesday had dinner with a friend, Mike Astringer, a fellow recruiter. A drink later with Levy and then it was Thursday morning. I awoke with palpitations and angst, the same I had felt those many years ago. We had breakfast and took the subway to downtown to see the memorial, the tower, and my past. I don’t know if he did it on purpose, not knowing my previous encounter with this site, or he did it for effect, but we got off a few blocks away from the Tower and began to walk.

We joked like we always did when we were together and the jocularity kept things light as the magnificence of the Freedom Tower loomed closer and larger, as did the angst rising within me. When we got to the tower, the landscape was entirely different, I recognized nothing, it was all different, but in the right way. The sun was shining and although it was cool outside the mood, was nothing like that. There was hope in the air. There was no more crying, no more leaflets or trash, and there was actually laughter in the air. Children were staring in awe at the foot of the Freedom Tower, not knowing the history, just taking in the magnificence.

We made our way to the Memorial and walked up to where the South Tower once stood and those feelings came back to me: pain, fear, despair, and loss. I was older now, and there was a distance created by time, yet it felt like 2002 all over again, and there was a tightness in my chest. We pressed on and arrived at the Freedom Tower. I was amazed; here I stood at the tallest building in the northern hemisphere, and I looked at it as if I were meeting one of my favorite authors, star struck. I am telling you; this was a bucket list moment.

The Memorial, the Hug, and Releasing Everything

memorialWhere I live, if someone gives you a hug it’s from the heart. – Steve Irwin

It was time to go to the Memorial and say goodbye the proper way, while paying my respects to not only the seven but to all who lost their lives that senselessly day. When I arrived at where the South Tower once stood, I was silent. I wanted to look for the names of my friends, I wanted to scream, I wanted answers, I just wanted something, what I wanted was peace, I wanted them back. I was holding it all back just breathing heavy and staring at the names and the splendor of the water flowing down the falls, the endless repetition of the water, there was so much beauty in front of me yet I only felt heartbreak. Steve and I made our way to the North Tower, the last tower to fall, and the one that, when it did, took his friend. He told me the stories of being lifeguards together when they were together and showed me the picture he still carries in his wallet of his friend. Soon we separated, to reflect alone, and that, my friends, is where it all sort of fell apart. I was just standing, staring at people, thinking, remembering that night we all met, what a night it was. We were all recruiters sharing stories about life, about ourselves, safe, now gone.

,A couple around my age were taking pictures and trying, as our generation does, to take a selfie of themselves in front of the inverted fountain before us. I stared at them wondering why this was some Kodak moment for them, but trying to feel no emotion and not completely break down, I went to move on only to have the wife jump in front of me and ask if I would take a picture of them. I replied, if you agree not to smile, this is, in a way, a graveyard and should always be respected. I have never seen eyes like hers stare at me and say, “You are of course right, we just want to document that we were here, our first time in NYC and all.” I realized my arrogance and said, just kidding in a genuine way to make them feel better as I was wrestling with my demons of 15 years and trying to stay calm. I took a few shots of them and, oddly, they did not smile, they knew, maybe, that this was not a celebratory place, but a memorial.

Once picture time was over, I smiled and was ready to slide back into keeping inside, pushing down my feelings and fighting back the tears trying come out. The woman said, “Thank you so much, are you from here?” No, I said, I lost seven friends here 15 years ago and at that moment the world stopped turning, there was no sound at all, just quiet within my mind. Pompeii then rose, and there was no holding anything back. I began to shake then cry, and the tears flowed. With no lack of hesitation, the woman standing by my side, the woman whose name I did not know, took me in her arms like a mother comforting a wounded child. She whispered, “It’s going to be all right,” her husband put his hand on my shoulder and said a short prayer then waited until I could finally, let go. It was nothing less than cathartic and cleansing; the demons were found and  released, and I could breathe again. I nodded my head and wandered till I found Steve, it was time to go somewhere, anywhere else other than here.

The Dinner and New Beginnings

Steve and I wandered the city after that, continuing our inner reflective journey. He often spoke of his world before and after, I was, oddly quiet as I am usually more verbose. Later, we had a drink with a mutual friend then off to a dinner planned by the irrepressible Rayanne Thorn. I don’t care much for large gatherings and usually shy from them but on the same note, it’s often hard for us to all meet up somewhere without the pressure of talking at a conference. Other than Steve and Rayanne, I knew no one at the event planned yet, from the moment I walked in I felt as if I was in a room of siblings and family I never knew existed.

7 new friendsWe laughed, smiled, and told our stories of how we all knew and met Rayanne; oddly it was mostly in a bar…another story I suppose. 😉 All the while, the day that was now behind me still lingered in mind, one last little demon still tapping on my brain. I was present but felt that to sum up the last 15 years needed to be brought out, I am a storyteller, you know. So, I told them at the dinner table after our meal the story you read here and the love that I felt, hugs that I received, and the stories that we shared made it one of the maven nights in this guy’s life. I must say that I thank all of you who were at that table for taking a moment to pay tribute to those who died that infamous day. Although I will never forget the seven people that I lost, I am grateful for the seven new friends I made that night, honored, humbled, and appreciative.

#truestory and, well #life

 

 

BUSINESS, HR

Stress Relief: The Danger of Over-Consumption

Stress Relief: The Danger of Over-Consumption

“That’s the problem with drinking, I thought, as I poured myself a drink. If something bad happens you drink in an attempt to forget; if something good happens you drink in order to celebrate; and if nothing happens you drink to make something happen.” ― Charles Bukowski

#truestoryMany of us in the recruiting business find ourselves sitting at a desk all day with our only exercise being typing on a keypad or a phone pad. Our cardio is our mouths screening and closing job candidates while selling to managers and trying to smile through unrealistic requirements put upon us.

This, unlike most of the things in our irrational choice to become a recruiter, is something that we actually can control. Some do, most do not. We merely slip into a comfort zone of drinking to relieve the stress. It’s like our version of exercise, instead of running to stave off stress, we drink alcohol. I have been to, and have spoken at, many conferences and have seen firsthand how the one constant communication tool is the copious amounts of alcohol that is consumed after the conference and exposition. I am not one to cast aspersions, as I have in the past had my fair share of binges and late-night revelries, but we need to make sure that this the exception to the rule and not the common thought out there. I was once asked in an interview how I dealt with stress. My answer was that I drank heavily.

Oddly I got the job.

I have to admit I was being interviewed by fellow recruiters so looking back, it makes sense, I guess. Also, I was, and am, snarky as hell – so at the very least, I thought it was funny.

This #truestory is about the person who took a chance on me those many years ago who got me into recruiting and the downward spiral that his life became as a warning of the dangers of alcohol abuse. Now, I am not saying that every recruiter is an alcoholic per sé, but we do seem to want to grab that glass of wine or whiskey and drink our troubles away. Hell, even now I am writing this at a bar waiting for the traffic to die down on the beltway, in other words, I’ll be here a while, but I am just going to sip on that beer. I like using relatively generic names when I speak or write to protect the identity of the person, so we are going to call my first mentor, Mike.

Have You Met My Friend, Mike?

“I like to see the glass as half full, hopefully of Jack Daniels.” 
― Darynda Jones

Mike was a great guy, who became a friend. He showed me the ropes of how to find, select, and close candidates. He was a master at it. He was a few years older than I, but he had grown up in the business since getting out of college with a literature degree. Since he could not find any other role for himself, he fell into recruiting, much like most, if not all of us, have. He was the silver-tongued devil who you just had to admire. When he spoke, you wanted to listen because he was eloquent and chose his words with precision. It was like watching a surgeon operate; he knew just how to cut through the bullshit and get to the real story. He was a good-looking guy, which complemented his charisma, and he could put on the charm at a bar, for a while.

Mike liked to drink, and when I say drink – I mean he REALLY liked to drink. He was a bourbon man and knew a great deal about the history, distillery process, and the nuances between manufacturers. I believe if you drank the way he did, it was not out of the question that his expertise would allow him to be a bourbon sommelier. I am not sure if that even exists but hey this is my story, and he can be an expert if I want him to be.

The thing about Mike is, he wasn’t a mean drunk, or loud, or even stupid. He was, shall we say, a dejected drunk. He would stare off into the distance, sometimes while telling a story he would lose his eloquence and sometimes, he would just stop talking altogether; in the middle of a statement. Other times he would cry, not bawl or wail, but sort of as a release of emotion that had been bottled in for too long and was being let out painfully slow.

I was still in the part of my life that hitting the bars after work was what you did. Happy hour was indeed happy, and you could get over priced drinks for a much lower price and when you are only making $15 an hour, that means one or two more libations. Mike knew this, and since he almost always picked up the check, and he was making a hell of a lot more than $15 an hour, he was happy to pay for a drinking buddy that would look out for him. I was happy to oblige as the drinks were plentiful, the stories flowed with the bourbon, and since Mike did not like to drive, I always wanted to make sure he got home safely by putting him in a cab or drop him off myself.

I had seen plenty of drunks, in my past, having been a bartender in my former life; I had learned how to control the situation and talk them off the ledge. After a few months, I came to realize that Mike was, in fact, more than a drunk, he was a functioning alcoholic who was spiraling out of control.

He started keeping a bottle in his desk and since the owner went out for lunch, every day and Mike’s desk had high cube walls he was able to take a shot or two during lunch time. Then, it was three or four, then, well, you get the point. It got bad, so bad that he was slurring his words by 4 pm and was even losing cognitive functionality at times. The owner of the company was clueless as to what was happening as Mike was making him cash and that was all he cared about, mostly. Caring about an employee who was crashing and burning was something that would make him a human being, which turned out – he was not. Yep, it was an agency, so would you be surprised? Probably not, if you have ever worked for one. Money makes the world go round.

The News…

“Ignorance is a lot like alcohol: the more you have of it, the less you are able to see its effect on you.” ― Jay M. Bylsma

Mike had been out all week; I thought he was on vacation but, apparently from the messages I got, he was on a bender. I went out with him on Wednesday telling him the boss was not thrilled that he kept calling in sick, he shrugged his shoulders, slammed another glass of bourbon down his throat, and said, “So what!”
I got into work on a Friday morning after taking the night off from going out with him; I needed the break. When I got in that morning, the mood was somber in the office. The place was not exactly a bustling habitat of activity, but there was usually a buzz, people on the phone or tapping away on the computer, instead there was only the sound of silence. There was something in the way people looked at me when I came in. It was as though they wanted to tell me something but did not feel that it was their place to do so. I made it to my desk, attached the leg iron to my ankle, and began my work day. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of my coworkers staring at her screen with red swollen eyes, the kind brought on by tears. She was not typing or reading she was just, staring as if she was in some trance. The owner came out of his office and came to my desk. He looked me in the eye and with the emotion that would have been emitted by a stone spoke.

“Mike is dead, sorry I know you were friends, but we need to move on. Seats need to be filled.”

He then walked away, without another word, right to his office and closed his door. The bullpen all looked at me at that moment for my reaction, my response, I had none. I sat there for a minute to take it in. I stood up and walked over to his desk, his cube, empty. I opened the drawer where he kept his bottle, empty. There were no pictures or even the notebooks he kept with the notes of candidates. The desk was cleared out; there was no evidence he even existed in our office. I was lost and I was not going to be found anytime soon. What happened? Was it an accident? What kills a 43-year-old man seemingly in good health?

Alchohol.

He had drunk himself to death; his liver had given out, and he had passed out not to awaken. Taken too soon and I did absolutely nothing to deter his behavior or get him help. I just took the free drinks & wings not ever asking what was behind those eyes that would stare into space. What were the demons that haunted him? Was the pressure to succeed, the daily push, was it too much for his constitution, to the point of no return? I know the answer, and it is simple; I’ll never know because I never asked. Shame on me.

Two days later, I quit to go to another agency and start fresh. The emotion of sitting across from, and staring at, Mike’s cube was too much to bare and frankly, plus working for a man who gave me grief because I wanted to attend his funeral wasn’t worth the paycheck. The price was too high.

This is the END, My Friend

“Take a drink because you pity yourself, and then the drink pities you and has a drink, and then two good drinks get together, and that calls for drinks all around.”  ― H. Beam Piper

#truestoryIn 1995, the movie Leaving Las Vegas came out based on the book of the same name. I saw this film in 1997, the first year I started recruiting, and I think, in a way, Mike could have penned that story – as his own did, unhappily, become eerily similar to the author. Most people don’t know that the book was an autobiography and the #truestory of John O’Brian. It is one hell of a movie and an even better book. Sadly, it reminded me of Mike, a good man who didn’t know how to control his stress or his demons; he just spiraled down the rabbit hole while we all just witnessed and did nothing. There was a sadness in Mike that was daily exacerbated by the stress of the job we did and frustrations we faced, I suppose. Time to fill, the cost of hire, number of resumés sent, it is all bullshit, we are in a people business, we are not accountants.

I miss Mike. I miss my mentor. I miss my, friend.
He should be here with me smiling and laughing like he always did, lighting up a room.

I’m going to tell you what, after writing this I think I am going for a run, instead of running to the bar, the truest of #truestories.

#life